The new owners of all things Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman are exploring an overhaul of DC Entertainment, multiple sources close to the situation told Variety.
It’s been less than a week since Discovery closed its $43 billion deal for WarnerMedia, joining one of the largest producers of reality programming with one of the most venerable entertainment brands under the new moniker of Warner Bros. Discovery. David Zaslav, the CEO of the combined companies, and top leadership have been toying with the idea of turning DC into its own solidified content vertical, the sources said.
The move would potentially affect DC feature film development in the Warner Bros. Pictures Group, streaming series at Warner Bros. Television, and the creative arm within DC proper — all in an effort to have the disparate elements more closely aligned in order to maximize the value of the superhero stable (one often seen as punching up against Marvel).
Before the merger closed, Zaslav vetted candidates with experience in creating and nurturing blockbuster intellectual property with a goal of potentially finding someone to serve as a creative and strategic czar similar to what Marvel has in Kevin Feige. One of those candidates included Emma Watts, a former top film executive at 20th Century Studios and Paramount, but it does not appear that Watts will take the job. One insider suggested that Zaslav was less interested in finding a creative guru and more eager to hire someone who had the type of business background needed to keep all the different factions at DC working more harmoniously.
Insiders say that Zaslav believes that the success of the merger, one that has left the company highly leveraged, will rest in no small part on unlocking the full potential of the DC Comics universe of characters. Discovery insiders believe that although DC has achieved cinematic success with recent films such as “Aquaman” and “The Batman,” it lacks a coherent creative and brand strategy. Discovery believes that several top-shelf characters such as Superman have been left to languish and need to be revitalized. They also believe that projects like Todd Phillips’ “The Joker” are a shining example of how second-billed characters from the DC library can and should be exploited (Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn was another opportunity, though “Birds of Prey” missed the mark).
DC has started to figure out ways for its big screen films to inspire more streaming content — recent examples include the HBO Max show “The Peacemaker,” which was a spinoff of “The Suicide Squad,” as well as an upcoming planned series on Colin Farrell’s The Penguin and Gotham City’s police force. But the company believes that DC must do more to grow its approach to comic book fare, including bolstering its gaming. Under Walter Hamada, who took over DC Films from Jon Berg and Geoff Johns in 2018, the unit has achieved more consistency in terms of both the critical and commercial reception to the company’s movies. He is under contract until the end of 2023 and could play an important role in whatever Zaslav has planned.
Zaslav has pledged to find $3 billion in synergies in the newly merged company, a signal of how important cost cutting will be to Warners’ new owners. Mining DC’s library of characters could help control spending as Warner Bros. Discovery owns the underlying intellectual property, insiders say.
Upcoming DC Films projects include a sequel to Zachary Levi’s “Shazaam,” a sequel to Jason Momoa’s “Aquaman,” the long-awaited franchise started “Black Adam” with Dwayne Johnson, and a third installment of Gal Gadot’s “Wonder Woman.”